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“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

Nataliya's quotes

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

Straight: The Surprisingly Short History Of Heterosexuality - Hanne Blank Whaaat? This 228-page book of nonfiction thought-provoking accessibly-written goodness ends on page 166? With the remaining pages all being annotations and bibliography and index? Ok, that gets the obligatory Darth Vader 'nooooooooo' out of the way, and we can safely continue without the danger of the world imploding.I loved this book. I've bookmarked roughly a billion of quotes, and I enjoyed the discussions some of them led to in the comments to me posting them. This book is written in a very accessible way, and is a lovely overview of the subject that Hanne Blank wants to introduce the reader to - the challenge of the concept that by now seems so ingrained in our minds and our culture that it seems almost silly to question it - the concept of heterosexuality. What Blank sets out to discuss is the idea of the newness of this concept, the influence of the contemporary culture on the idea of it, the way it served and continues to serve the agenda and the doxa of our sexuality (more on that later), and the evolution of this seemingly stable concept over time. And in her tracing of the lifetime of the concept of heterosexuality she touches upon the 'science' (or pseudoscience) of it, the history of marriage, the contraception, the concept of romantic love, the idea of sexual pleasure, and, of course, Freud (the man whom I would love to shake to his senses through some kind of a time loop).In order to understand her arguments, Hanne Blank makes sure the readers are familiar with the concept of doxa, which she explains as the 'everybody knows' idea:"When anthropologists talk about "this stuff everyone knows," they use the term 'doxa.' Doxa comes from Greek for 'common knowledge,' and that's a pretty good description of what it is: the understanding we absorb from our native culture that we use to make sense of the world. Doxa is, quite literally in most cases, the stuff 'that goes without saying,' the assumptions and presumptions and 'common sense' ideas we have about our world and how it works. Virtually everything we know about sexuality and heterosexuality, we know - or think we know - because of doxa."Hanne Blank then takes this concept and goes on to show how we have arrived at our current, mainstream, and often presented as the only and valid understanding of sexuality, and specifically what we perceive as solid and unchanging heterosexuality. Concluding at the end of this lovely constructed introductory overview to this flawed and fascinating subject, in tone of what she's been arguing about in this book about the changing concept of something that many choose to see as solid and eternal and set in stone, "And this, too, shall pass." And, in no particular order, here are the bits and pieces that I liked - letting the book speak for itself:- The frequent (and well-deserved) jabs and stabs at Siegmund Freud, a man whose works we are all familiar with despite, as Blank notes, barely anyone actually having read them (seriously, most of the Freud's stuff most people know (doxa???) we have actually learned through someone else telling us about them - in countless texts, self-help manuals and all that stuff). Oh, dear Freud, hell-bent on his ideas of what should be the proper sexuality, especially for all those hysterical women:"By the 1930s, thanks to Freud's students and followers who carried on his work both before and after Freud's death in 1939, the idea that "vaginal orgasm" was the only valid heterosexual orgasm for women had gathered an extraordinary amount of steam.""Among many beliefs that Freud shared with his generally well-off bourgeois peers was a deep, nearly mystical belief in the importance of penis-in-vagina copulation."- The crackdown on slut-shaming and everything else that people perceive as out-of-normal, not consistent with their sex doxa:"There is no meaningful word for the middle of that bell curve, the space that fits comfortably inside the boundaries of doxa, the space that most people occupy most of the time. Nameless and characterless, the space we can loosely characterize as 'normal' is almost completely undefined.This is why 'slut' and 'prude', 'pervert' and 'deviant' all work so well as insults and as ways to police the boundaries of sex doxa. The labels are effortless to deploy and hard, even impossible, to defend against. As any woman who has been the subject of slut-shaming knows all too well - and about two out of three American women deal with this while they are still in high school, according to a 1993 study done by the American Association of University Women - the victim has no traction."- Presenting the desire to find that 'something' that clearly separates the 'normal' from the 'deviant' as basically a need for some kind of reassurance:"The self-identification of small numbers of sexually non-normative individuals was not something that generated a sensibility of 'the heterosexual' or 'the normal-sexual' in the rest of the population. What generated this sensibility in the mainstream was the increasingly common experience of looking into the mirror to see if a deviant or a degenerate looked back.""It is a conceit we are reared on: how many children's stories have evil characters who are hideous or deformed and good ones who are beautiful? we stigmatize the disabled, the deformed, and the just plain funny-looking on the basis of their bodies, assuming them to be stupid or incompetent.We do this where sex is concerned, too. Even now, despite there being no proof for it whatsoever, many people are still profoundly attached to the idea that having penetrative sex for the first time permanently changes a woman's body, that you can tell that a woman is no longer a virgin by the width of her hips or the way she walks. [...] Physical and biological scientists who look for evidence of distinctive 'gay' bodies - whether in terms of genes or hormones or brains or gross anatomical features like fingers or genitals - are working from the same principle. In order to look for evidence of a physically or biologically distinctive 'gay' body, an additional assumption is necessary: that there is also a distinctive 'non-gay' body from which to draw comparisons."- The reminders of how contraception changed the world, including the entire concept of family and heterosexuality itself, shifting the emphasis in relationships from unavoidable procreation and child-rearing to pleasure and companionship:"Pregnancy had always been a fraught time, gradually interfering with women's physical function even when it doesn't bring serious discomforts and complications. It has always meant a prospect of another mouth to feed. What we often forget, from our first-world perch with its hospital births, antibiotics, and antiseptic procedures, is that until the twentieth century, childbirth was also deadly."- The sardonic look at our culture's preoccupation, despite everything we know (or think we know) about sexuality, with penis-in-vagina sex as the only normative sex there is:"But Viagra ads make it clear that Viagra-fueled erections are intended for vaginal penetration, the one distinctive act of 'heterosexual sex' and the only fully legitimate source of sexual pleasure for most of Western history.""For Hitschman and Bergler, 'frigidity' had a single criterion: 'absence of vaginal orgasm.' The standard was unqualified and absolute. A woman who did not enjoy intercourse: frigid. Women who derived sexual pleasure from acts other than intercourse were frigid too. Nothing else mattered, only whether a woman had an orgasm because a man's penis was inside her vagina. Sexually aggressive women were labeled 'frigid' because of the association between masculinity and aggressiveness. Womanhood that was not passive was not properly womanly. "Frigidity," as Jane Gerhadt points out, "thus became a label and a diagnosis that defined how much sexual desire a woman must have and in what kinds of sexual behavior she must engage to be 'healthy.'""[...]In virtually every culture we know, to be a sexually active man is to penetrate with the penis, and to be a sexually active female is to be penetrated by one. The medieval English take on it was that in sex, there are two partners, 'the man that doeth and the woman that suffereth'[...]It meant that the man, not the woman, engaged in sexual activity - he penetrated - while the woman merely permitted it to be done.And finally, this:"We want women to be secure enough in the pursuit of their own pleasure to pick out vibrators of their choice in friendly, feminist-owned sex shops, but we don't want them to prefer vibrators to men. We want men to be virile, experienced, and highly sexually skilled, but not to prioritize sex over love or to refuse marriage and fatherhood. We are anxious to experience sexual pleasure and plenty of it, but only if it happens to the right people, at the right ages, in the right combinations."-------------------The original pre-review:I read the Google Books preview of this book and found it to be interesting and written in a very accessible way. It made me want to read the whole thing - and so I'm on the waiting list for it at my library, and will post the full review as soon as I get it and finish it. Yes, this book has a few inaccuracies and relies on quite a bit of oversimplification - but I do appreciate the fact that it should be understandable to the 'average Joe'. Yes, you can say it pushes its agenda - but I don't mind since I fully agree with the said agenda.In the meantime, while I wait for it to become available, I will leave you with some of the quotes that I found interesting from the introduction and part of the first chapter:"There are no such things as "opposite" genders, any more than a strawberry is the "opposite" of a plum. They are merely different."-------"In truth, sexual activity is social activity. Our culture is often loath to recognize this, although we do embrace the idea that sexual activity can be about the social function of expressing affection and intensifying social and emotional bonds. Indeed, many people believe that sex is only justified by love. But sexual activity has many other social roles to play. It can be a reward, a mode of exchange, a way to affirm loyalty, or an appeasement. It can be a commodity, a way of providing reassurance, and a rite of passage. As a source of pleasure it has few equals. It's an age-old means of asserting dominance and a visceral mode by which to demonstrate submission. It can furthermore be a means of gaining control, a way to humiliate and violate, and a way to punish. And any given sex act, no matter who engages in it, and often will involve more than one of these dynamics.--------"...Sexual desire (what we like or want) and sexual behavior (what we actually do) are not the same thing, and may or may not be related."---------"And last, we must bear in mind that the relationships between perception, thought, emotion, and behavior are neither automatic nor consistent. In many cases they are demonstrably affected or directed by culture and socialization. We don't just want what we want because we want it; we want what we want because that's what we've learned to want."